Dr Aleksandr Kogan claims he had no idea his work in 2014 would be used to help Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and believes he has been made a scapegoat
The scientist who created the app used to hoover up data from 50million Facebook users said today he has been made a ‘scapegoat’ and accused Cambridge Analytica of ‘selling magic’ to its clients.
Cambridge University academic Dr Aleksandr Kogan claims he had no idea his work in 2014 was used during Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and feels ‘horrible’ that he won.
Dr Kogan was hired by Cambridge Analytica to build a personality test app called ‘thisismydigitallife’ that also accessed the Facebook profiles of 280,000 Americans with their consent.
But the users, who were paid around $3 each, weren’t told the information on their social media was actually being harvested for commercial gain.
CA whistleblower Christopher Wylie claims it allowed them to hijack data from 50 million users and use it to target swing voters in the 2016 US elections and also the EU referendum.
But Dr Kogan says that CA has made a fortune were peddling a ‘myth’ and that the data was more likely to hurt Trump’s campaign that help it.
He said: ‘The accuracy of this data has been extremely exaggerated. My best guess is that we were six times more likely to get everything wrong about a person than right. I think (the data) could only have hurt the Trump campaign. Or any campaign.
‘I think what CA has tried to sell is magic. It made claims that this data is incredibly accurate and it tells you everything there is to tell about you. But the reality is it’s not that. If you look at the data carefully those claims quickly fall apart’.
But Dr Kogan’s claims about the data being unreliable is at odds with a 2014 lecture he gave in Russia where he told delegates: ‘Your Facebook knows more about you than any other person in your life’.
He added: ‘The level of what can be predicted about you based on what you like on Facebook is higher than what your wife would say about you, what your parents or friends can say about you.
‘Even if we take your 10 best friends and they all give a description of who you are as a person and we combine it all together — this analysis method is still better’.
Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix arrived at the firm’s London offices yesterday as Facebook auditors combed through their files
Auditors sent by the social media giant were looking through the files until the Information Commissioner convinced them to ‘stand down’ so it does not compromise the ‘integrity’ of their investigation
Last night footage emerged of a meeting in which Mr Nix appears to suggest that CA could compromise politicians by sending ‘beautiful’ Ukrainian women to candidates’ house
Facebook said he had violated their policies but Dr Kogan insists CA told him that his app was perfectly legal.
CA claims he has lied about them approaching him to create the app and says it was the other way round.
He told the BBC: ‘I am stunned. The events of the past week have been a total shell shock, and my view is that I’m being basically used as a scapegoat by both Facebook and Cambridge Analytica when we thought we were doing something that was really normal.
‘We were assured by Cambridge Analytica that everything was perfectly legal and within the terms of service.’
The parliamentary inquiry into fake news has called on Mark Zuckerberg to give evidence, accusing the company of ‘misleading’ the committee in a previous hearing
Dr Aleksandr Kogan told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that CA approached him to do the work – rather than the other way around – and insisted he believed it was above board.
‘What happened was they approached me. In terms of the usage of Facebook data they wrote the terms of service for the app, they provided the legal advice that this was all appropriate,’ he said.
Dr Kogan said he regretted not asking more questions about the work he did for CA.
‘One of the great mistakes I did here was I just didn’t ask enough questions,’ he told Today.
‘I had never done a commercial project, I didn’t really have any reason to doubt their sincerity.
‘That’s certainly something I strongly regret now.’
He added: ‘My motivation was to get a dataset I could do research on; I have never profited from this in any way personally.’
In 2014 Dr Kogan lectured on Facebook data in Russia and how it could be used to predict things about you.
He said: ‘The level of what can be predicted about you based on what you like on Facebook is higher than what your wife would say about you, what your parents or friends can say about you.
‘Even if we take your 10 best friends and they all give a description of who you are as a person and we combine it all together — this analysis method is still better.’
He added: ‘Your Facebook knows more about you than any other person in your life’.
Dr Kogan has also been accused of misleading Facebook about his work.
He said: ‘We never claimed during the project that it was for academic research. In fact, we did our absolute best not to have the project have any entanglements with the university.’
Facebook staff were told to ‘back away’ from searching Cambridge Analytica’s London offices by Britain’s data watchdog yesterday as Mark Zuckerberg faced growing calls to testify in Westminster.
Auditors sent by the social media giant were combing through the company’s files until Elizabeth Dunham, the Information Commissioner, convinced them to ‘stand down’ so it does not compromise the ‘integrity’ of her investigation.
As Facebook searched through files its founder, Mark Zuckerberg, faced calls to testify in parliament amid claims CA hijacked personal details from Facebook and used them during Donald Trump’s 2016 Presidential campaign and the EU referendum battle.
CA, who allegedly tapped the Facebook profiles of 50million users, were ‘uncooperative’ with ICO investigators who were forced to get a warrant to search their servers.
At least a dozen crates believed to contain files were wheeled out of the building this afternoon. The Information Commissioner’s office confirmed to MailOnline they have not ordered the removal of any documents but CA and Facebook are yet to respond.
The building is home to several companies and the two men removing the boxes would not confirm where they had come from.
The scandal has left Facebook in turmoil as users called for a boycott and Facebook shares plunged again with more than £25billion ($36bn) wiped off its value in two days.
The parliamentary inquiry into fake news has called on Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to give evidence, accusing the company of ‘misleading’ the committee in a previous hearing.
The chairman of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, Damian Collins, tweeted a picture of his letter to Mr Zuckerberg, in which he said the tech giant’s officials had ‘consistently understated’ the risk of companies acquiring and holding users’ private data.
He asked him specifically for his own account of ‘this catastrophic failure of process’.
‘Given your commitment at the start of the New Year to ‘fixing’ Facebook, I hope that this representative will be you,’ he added.
A US citizen living in the US cannot be forced to attend Parliament but MPs will pile on pressure for Mr Zuckerberg to answer questions.
The US Federal Trade Commission is also investigating his company over whether they ‘violated’ the rights of Facebook’s members.
Storage crates were removed from Cambridge Analytica’s London headquarters (pictured) but it is not yet known who has ordered them to be taken away
The building is home to several companies and the two men removing the boxes would not confirm where they had come from
Facebook shares tumble AGAIN the day after £25bn was wiped off its value
Facebook shares have plunged after the Cambridge Analytica scandal emerged
Facebook is having one of its worst weeks as a publicly traded company with a share sell-off continuing for a second day.
Britain’s Commissioner Elizabeth Denham told the BBC that she was investigating Facebook and has asked the company not to pursue its own audit of Cambridge Analytica’s data use. Denham is also pursuing a warrant to search Cambridge Analytica’s servers.
Facebook’s stock tumbled a further 5% following its worst trading day in four years.
The social media giant saw £25billion wiped off its value yesterday as the backlash intensified and its shares plunged again in the US. Nearly £36billion has been wiped off Facebook’s market value in total this week.
Facebook Inc. is coming under intense scrutiny since The New York Times and The Guardian newspaper reported that former Trump campaign consultant Cambridge Analytica used data, including user likes, inappropriately obtained from roughly 50 million Facebook users to try to sway elections.
Shares of Snap Inc and Twitter Inc also fell.
Throughout the day the hashtag #deletefacebook is trending online as users called for a boycott and Facebook shares plunged again with more than £25billion ($36bn) wiped off its value in two days.
Mr Zuckerberg’s own £49billion ($70bn) wealth was reduced by £3.4billion ($4.9bn) as his Wall Street stocks crashed.
At least one box contained files, documents and papers, and staff were seen arranging them in the lobby. They were loaded into a self-hire van and driven away.
On the second floor, where Cambridge Analytica has its offices, the blinds were drawn, but earlier CEO Alexander Nix was seen walking around and scratching his head.
Wikileaks boss Julian Assange announced he would give evidence to the committee via a videolink from his hideout in the Ecuadorian Embassy.
He tweeted: ‘I have accepted a request by the select committee of the UK parliament @CommonsCMS to give evidence, via video link, about Cambridge Analytica, and other matters, later this month.’
CA’s bosses were secretly filmed claiming they could entrap politicians with ‘beautiful girls’ and used ex-spies to dig dirt on them, it was revealed.
Elizabeth Denham said she would have to apply for a search warrant against CA as it had been ‘uncooperative’.
She said: ‘By Facebook going in at this point we were concerned about the integrity of our investigation.
‘We are also looking at Facebook at the same time, so our advice to Facebook was to back away, let us get in there as a regulator and do our work, and they have agreed.
‘We are seeking a warrant so that, as the regulator, we can go in and get to the bottom, search the servers, do a data audit’.
Cambridge Analytica chief executive Alexander Nix (pictured arriving at the office yesterday ) was recorded saying he could send Ukrainian women to a candidate’s house
Large numbers of crates in the lobby of CA’s building – the Information Commissioner has confirmed it has nothing to do with their removal
Mr Nix, who has denied using entrapment following a Channel 4 investigation, was working at CA’s offices but has admitted he could resign to save the company
Former Attorney General Dominic Grieve is among those calling for tougher penalties for anyone who abuses online data.
Elizabeth Denham said she would apply for a search warrant against CA, run by Alexander Nix, as it had been ‘uncooperative’
He told the BBC: ‘I do think we need to give some very serious thought to raising the penalties in relation to this, particularly in relation to the individuals involved.
‘Most of these penalties are financial. In the past, quite frankly, they have been relatively minor. The Government’s new regime is designed to be much tougher but I think we do have to look carefully at this.
‘If there is evidence that data mining is being used to try to influence outcomes of elections of elections or referendums or anything else I think that is a serious matter.
How storm over Facebook data and dirty tactics has rocked Mark Zuckerberg
What is Cambridge Analytica?
Cambridge Analytica is a British company which uses personal information from social media users to help clients try to influence voters or consumers, crafting messages targeted specifically to people’s hopes, fears or desires.
The firm was founded as an offshoot of SCL Group, a strategic communication and military operations firm, in 2013.
It is largely owned by Robert Mercer, an American billionaire with a history of funding conservative political campaigns, who named Mr Trump’s former campaign architect Steve Bannon as vice-president before he stepped into politics.
Mr Bannon even chose the company name, according to the New York Times, because it largely employed researchers from Cambridge University to construct its data-crunching software.
What do they do?
The firm describes itself as delivering ‘data-driven behavioural change’ for its clients in both political and commercial fields, using large amounts of personal data from social media and other sources.
On a practical basis, the company’s services are perhaps best described by chief data officer Alex Taylor.
‘If you’re collecting data on people and you’re profiling them, that gives you more insight that you can use to know how to segment the population, to give them messaging about issues that they care about, and language and imagery that they’re likely to engage with,’ said Mr Taylor, in a secretly filmed meeting with Channel 4 News, broadcast on Monday.
‘We used that in America and we used that in Africa. That’s what we do as a company.’
Where have they worked?
Cambridge Analytica famously switched from working with Ted Cruz in the 2016 US election to aiding Mr Trump’s team, but it had previously helped 44 congressional and Senate campaigns in the 2014 mid-term elections.
Both chief executive Alexander Nix and the leaders of the Leave.EU campaign boasted about working together on the Brexit campaign but have since retracted their claims, saying no contract was signed and no work was completed.
Employees talked of working on political and commercial campaigns around the world in the Channel 4 expose, from Mexico and Malaysia to Brazil, Kenya, Australia and China.
What is the controversy?
Top of the list are topics raised by Mr Nix in a meeting with Channel 4 News journalists, in which he discussed ‘deep digging’ on opposition candidates, and disinformation and entrapment as possible tactics for fighting elections, on top of its targeted messaging service.
Facebook banned Cambridge Analytica from using its platform on Friday, days before a whistleblower claimed the company had harvested and stored data about more than 50 million Facebook users without their permission.
The majority of those users were in the US but the UK’s Information Commissioner has now issued a warrant to search the company’s London offices after it failed to respond to a previous request about the possible illegal use of data.
What happens next?
Facebook announced an independent audit of its relationship with Cambridge Analytica after suspending the company’s accounts last week but has since been asked to stand down by the Information Commissioner’s Office.
In the US, a number of attorney generals have launched investigations into how Facebook data has been used. Mr Nix and Cambridge Analytica have denied all allegations of wrongdoing.
Mr Zuckerberg said at the start of the year that he wanted to fix the issues which have plagued Facebook in recent years.
The past week’s developments have only added to his already lengthy list.
‘It will start to create in the mind of the public an anxiety that in fact they are being manipulated’.
A whistleblower claimed the firm used the data to build a powerful software program to predict and influence choices at the ballot box, particularly in the run-up to the 2016 US election.
During one filmed meeting, Mr Nix appears to suggest that CA could compromise politicians by sending ‘beautiful’ Ukrainian women to candidates’ houses.
Discussing CA’s ‘effective’ election tactics, he says they could film themselves posing as wealthy developers and encourage a politician to accept a bribe then put the footage on the internet.
Offering bribes to public officials is an offence in the UK, where CA operates, and in the US, where it is registered.
The apparent admissions were shown in a Channel 4 investigation in which an undercover reporter posed as a fixer for a wealthy client hoping to get candidates elected in Sri Lanka.
Between November 2017 and January, they filmed meetings with Mr Nix, CA Political Global’s Mark Turnbull, and chief data officer Dr Alex Tayler.
The executives claimed CA and parent firm Strategic Communications Laboratories had worked in more than 200 elections, including in Kenya, the Czech Republic and India.
At one point, Mr Turnbull describes how, having obtained damaging material on opponents, CA can discreetly push it on to social media and the internet.
He says ‘we just put information into the bloodstream of the internet, and then watch it grow, give it a little push every now and again … like a remote control. It has to happen without anyone thinking, ‘That’s propaganda’.’ Mr Turnbull said their influence would be ‘very, very, very discreet’ so ‘no record exists with our name attached’.
He added that they have links to ‘specialist organisations … so you know who the opposition is, you know their secrets’. When asked about digging up material on political opponents, Mr Nix says they could ‘send some girls around to the candidate’s house’, adding that Ukrainian girls ‘are very beautiful, I find that works very well’. Mr Nix has been accused of misleading the Commons culture committee over the alleged Facebook data grab. He has denied the claims.
CA told Channel 4: ‘We entirely refute any allegation that CA or any of its affiliates use entrapment, bribes or so-called honeytraps for any purpose … CA does not use untrue material for any purpose.’
Alexander Nix arrived at work as he admitted he may have to resign over the scandal – but denied the London-based company used honeytraps or prostitutes.
Old Etonian Mr Nix faces a storm over footage where he appeared to suggest their election work included entrapping politicians with ‘beautiful girls’ from Ukraine.
But when asked about the alleged use of prostitutes last night he said: ‘No not professionally or personally. I am embarrassed you asked me’.
He added: ‘It’s going to cost us a vast amount of money. But for the rest of history and for my children when they become teenagers they will read this stuff about dad getting in hookers to catch out politicians. I mean I cringe at the idea’.
Explaining his version of events he told The Times: ‘The guy starts saying we need to change the political landscape, I need to entrap the politicians and how can we do this? So I reeled off some examples and said you could do this, you could do that. There’s an English thing about being slightly embarrassed when someone starts going off on one like this and you humour him a bit and then you leave’.
He added he believed that Cambridge Analytica was being targeted because they helped with Donald Trump’s 2016 US Presidential campaign.
Mr Nix also said he could be forced to quit – and would do so if it meant the company would survive.
Her said’appearances can be deceptive’ when asked if the firm had previously used entrapment following the disclosures on Channel 4 News .
When asked if CA would abandon its political work Mr Nix gave no reply but firmly denied he had misled parliament over its use of data, saying ‘absolutely not’.
Wikileaks boss Julian Assange announced he would give evidence to the committee via a videolink from his hideout in the Ecuadorian Embassy
He tweeted: ‘I have accepted a request by the select committee of the UK parliament @CommonsCMS to give evidence, via video link, about Cambridge Analytica, and other matters, later this month’
The offices of Cambridge Analytica in central London, which is likely to be raided by the British data watchdog
MP Damian Collins has called for Mark Zuckerberg to face MPs to answer questions about handling of data and ‘fixing Facebook’
Facebook saw £25billion wiped off its value yesterday as the backlash over harvesting the personal details of 50million accounts intensified.
Whistleblower Christopher Wylie said the firm used the private social media activity of a large portion of the U.S. electorate to develop techniques that underpinned its work on President Trump’s campaign in 2016
Shares in the social media giant fell 6.7 per cent to their lowest level in five years as web users called for a boycott of the site.
MPs demanded the firm be brought to heel as Theresa May’s spokesman said the allegations surrounding Facebook and British data firm Cambridge Analytica were ‘very concerning’.
Digital minister Margot James yesterday said the Government should force web giants to sign a code of conduct and warned the public needs ‘protection’ from the ‘Wild West’ industry. Asked about Cambridge Analytica, which allegedly used the personal data of Facebook users to predict elections, Mrs James said: ‘That cannot go unchecked, unanswered. The harms are too great.’
European Parliament president Antonio Tajani weighed in, claiming the findings constituted ‘an unacceptable violation of our citizens’ privacy rights’.
It came as scores of social media users took to Twitter to post the hashtag: ‘Boycott Facebook’.
Yet in the wake of mounting criticism, Facebook’s Europe chief refused to answer questions at a conference yesterday, instead saying: ‘I’m just on my way out. I’m sorry. I can’t talk to you.’
Cambridge Analytica had ties with the Trump campaign during the 2016 presidential election